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Sunday, 29 January 2012

Even a dog can dream...


This is my friend's dog, Kelsey, a lovable King Charles spaniel who's  dreaming of a walk on the beach after an operation on her leg.  I've always been a bit nervous of dogs, and some of them have been more than a little suspicious of me, too.  But Kelsey, a rescue dog, and her sister Katy (just visible in the background) have changed all that.

They bound over to see me when I arrive, each vying for attention before burying their heads  in my handbag in search of  hidden treats.  If I'm lucky they will cuddle up close, keeping me warm on the sofa, trying to lick my face (which I now know is quite a compliment!)  We always had cats  when I was a child, so I never understood how intuitive dogs could be. 'Don't be scared,' their eyes say, when I arrive, 'we only want to be friends.'

My friend, the dogs'  'mum in situ,' is like a third daughter to me, so it means we are keeping it all in the family. Which reminds me. Kelsey is two on Valentine's Day, so I must remember to send her a card. I'm sure she'll be romping on the beach by then....

Monday, 23 January 2012

Brer Rabbit - The Return...

Nineteen fifties Brer Rabbit annual 

Something wonderful has happened.  After years of waiting, my long lost Brer Rabbit annual has finally come home. Two weeks ago, on this blog, I  explained how I had given away my beloved childhood copy  after being urged at school to donate something 'special' to underprivileged children.  I have pined for the book, with its juggling bunny and shiny turquoise cover, ever since.

Several people, including fellow blogger Faith,  suggested I try Amazon or AbeBooks.  Although I have done this before, as well as scouring countless antique bookshops, I decided to give it  one more try.

A few days later, I thought I had hit the jackpot. The vintage book listed had no photo but it was the right era and much of the detail was the same.  Sadly, when it arrived, it was a different version - written by Enid Blyton - with none of my favourite stories between the covers.

Encouraged by this however, my daughter, Amy, tried again on Ebay, and suddenly there it was!   For three nail-biting days I waited anxiously,  but it was worth it in the end. The Complete Brer Rabbit Stories, retold by Phyllis Briggs from the original stories by Joel Chandler Harris, finally arrived!

My long lost book is here with me now, and I'm not sure I'll ever put it down. There's Brer Rabbit Goes Riding and Mr Cricket's Free Ride, Brer Fox gets Even, and Wishing for the Moon. Then there'sThe Tar Baby - my favourite of them all.

So a million thanks to Amy, AbeBooks, to Faith and Diane, and finally to 'Leonard,' who was given the book as a  Christmas present in 1952. Without them I'd still be pining....

And then there was the one that didn't quite make it.........

Got to go now - it's time for my bedtime story....

Monday, 16 January 2012

From Chick Lit to Cabinet?

Imagine the conversation if  novelist Barbara Cartland  had  met MP Louise Mensch. The Conservative member for Corby and East Northamptonshire, Mrs Mensch is better known as  Louise Bagshawe, internationally-acclaimed  chick-lit author.

While the late legendary romance writer dictated her prose from the comfort of a chaise longue, her modern counterpart  has  more pressing matters  on her mind. Earlier this year she was seen asking awkward questions at the press inquiry into phone hacking, not to mention her  recent spat with journalist Sarah Vine.

Sarah, meanwhile, is married to Education Secretary Michael Gove, himself a former journalist, who strongly defends his wife's right to the  freedom of speech. I wonder what they talk about over their Waitrose supper?

It seems to me that the line between writers and politicians has blurred in a way that would have been impossible twenty years ago. Can you picture Enoch Powell writing a play about immigration? Or Margaret Thatcher reading the news?

Incidentally, Louise was recently described in GQ magazine as 'The spiritual granddaughter of Margaret Thatcher. In the days of the 'Iron Lady,' writers and politicians were at different ends of the spectrum, each understanding their own place.

And then, of course, there was Jeffrey Archer. But that's a whole different  story...  

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Oh, how I miss Brer Rabbit...

I was about six or seven when I first discovered the meaning of loss. It wasn't anyone close to me, or even a favourite pet.  It was, quite simply, a book. We were having a collection of toys at school for 'underprivileged children'  and the teacher  urged us to donate something another child would treasure. 'It's easy to give what you don't want,' she reasoned,  'but if you part with something you care about,  the gift will be extra special.'

So home I went to find  my most prized possession: a Brer Rabbit annual.  I can see  it now - the shiny turquoise cover beckoning from the bedside table - each magical story waiting to be read over and over again...

Now, I know it was only a book, but it's one I will never forget. Looking back, I think I pined for it, though I had no idea at the time what the word meant. Over the years I visited the library every week, hundreds of stories passing through my eager hands, but I never saw  that Brer Rabbit annual again.

My  teacher  may have meant well, but it seems she didn't see life through the eyes of a child. And yet, when it comes to Brer Rabbit, I still do.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Start Write Now...

Winston Churchill once said that every conversation is an interview. If you follow that logic then everyone who puts pen to paper is a writer; the 18-month old who scribbles her 'signature' on a birthday card, the six year-old who records  'What I did at the weekend,' in his school book, or the teenager who re-invents history in the hope of gaining an A star GCSE.

'Oh, I can't write,' is a phrase I've heard frequently over the years from friends and colleagues who, unlike me, have a brilliant head for figures, make light work of their tax returns and think nothing of giving a  lecture in astrophysics while planning their next dinner party.  They can write, of course. What they mean is they'd rather not; they're too busy doing everything else.

Who am I to complain? After all, writing has been my sole income for half of my working life. For others it is merely an add-on.Take film actress, comedienne and television presenter Maureen Lipman. She is also a writer, the latter sometimes added to her credentials as a mere afterthought.

Writing a book (and Maureen's done that, too) is an act of love, akin to bringing a child into the world. It makes you laugh  and cry - full  of joy one minute and dogged by despair the next - but you never stop believing in what you have created.

That, in short, is why I decided to become a novelist. And I wish good luck in 2012 to every would-be author who  feels the same.